The B-Shoe prototype. (photo from b-shoe.com)
While observing his elderly father, Yonatan Manor, a chemical engineer from Haifa, decided to create a shoe to help prevent falls, an all too common danger faced by the elderly.
Manor’s father was often losing his balance when trying to go backwards, using his four-legged walker. “One Saturday morning, I was sitting at breakfast with my wife and told her I wished I had an idea to prevent him from falling,” said Manor. “It was like a joke, as I know mechanics and it’s not simple to build a machine strong enough to balance a person.”
Manor recalled, “My father would stand on his heels and then I’d have to push him forward, back to a balanced position.” Considering what type of shoe could help solve the problem, Manor said, “If the shoe was moving backward, it would do the same thing,” meaning it would restore a person’s balanced position. Manor went on to build a pre-prototype, a mechanical tool with a small motor and batteries, which he inserted into a shoe.
“This makes it so you can’t lose balance in the backward direction,” said the inventor. “You lean backward and then you find you’re standing straight again, and the shoe doesn’t have to move much, only the [length] of the heel. It’s only five centimetres, enough to do the job. It doesn’t push you, give the feeling of something moving under the leg or give the feeling that you may lose balance.”
Manor said the shoe, which has been dubbed the “B-Shoe,” is designed for walking around at home. When an elder does venture out, someone else should still provide some accompaniment.
When Manor reached the point when he knew he needed some business support to get his invention to the market, he turned to Abraham Stamper, a friend and retired scientist. Stamper became the chief executive officer of B-Shoe Technologies Ltd., established in 2011.
Manor and Stamper were able to develop a business plan and a working prototype with the initial money they raised. They also had the help of the government agency overseeing the high-tech industry for their efforts in the field.
“We’re in the phase of looking for funds for the investment of this next stage … developing the product ready for mass production,” said Manor. “Right now, it is just a generic prototype. Once we have the funds, it will likely take about 18 months to get it to market.”
When it came to developing the B-Shoe, Manor said the electronic and structural aspects were fairly straightforward. “The electro-mechanical solution is a bit smart and difficult,” said Manor. “We need to do it in low volume and low weight. The electro-mechanical mechanism was the main development obstacle.”
As far as retail cost, Manor anticipates the shoe will be within the range of other high-end tailor-made comfort or orthopedic shoes, which is about $500 to $1,000 US per pair (which will be available at a store from a distributor).
“We believe people who begin feeling like they’re losing balance or who’ve already fallen or suffered a near-fall will ask their GP or neurologist what to do and how to protect themselves,” said Manor. “Our vision is that medical professionals will then point the patient to the B-Shoe. Right now, people are most often recommended to use a walker or cane – but many people refuse to do so. The B-Shoe will be the better alternative.
“The shoe’s innovation isn’t about the shoe itself, but the fall-prevention mechanism, which can be embedded into the sole of any conventional flat walking shoe – so there will be a wide variety of shoes for both men and women.
“B-Shoe’s project addresses an annual global market of about 14 billion U.S. dollars.”
Dr. Stephen Rabinovitch, professor and Canada Research Chair at Simon Fraser University in the department of biomedical physiology and kinesiology and the School of Engineering Science, is well-versed on falls and balance in older adults.
After having reviewed the information on the B-Shoe website, Rabinovitch said, “It’s an interesting concept, but is in [a] very early stage of development and evaluation. We don’t know anything yet on its effectiveness in improving balance and mobility and preventing falls in older adults. Right now, the B-Shoe device focuses only on preventing backward falls, but falls occur in different directions.”
According to Rabinovitch, falls are the number one cause of injuries in seniors, including 95 percent of hip fractures and 60 percent of traumatic brain injuries. “So, even a moderate reduction in falls would carry significant social and economic benefits,” he said.
“Falls are challenging to prevent, as there are a wide range of risk factors, such as reductions in physical and cognitive function, diseases, use of psychoactive medications, reductions in sensory function and muscle weakness.
“It’s often difficult to think about prevention until falls start occurring, but it’s important for people to exercise throughout their lifespan, and to focus on both their strength (through resistance training) and their agility and balance (through walking, hiking and approaches like Tai Chi). A current buzz phrase is ‘exercise is medicine,’ which is certainly appropriate with regard to mobility and falls.”
Rebeca Kuropatwa is a Winnipeg freelance writer.